A crucial reality check

Anyone unclear on the value of a strong public health system just got a real-life lesson.

As reported in last week’s Ellsworth American, the state recorded its first measles case in two years — an unnamed male student at Madison Junior High School. Officials responded quickly to the presence of the highly contagious disease. They determined the scope of the problem and the danger it posed, and reported it clearly to the public. They worked with health providers so that Mainers possibly exposed could get treatment, and any outbreak could be stopped in its tracks.

Working with the school district, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a timeline for exposure and informed the public, all with the aim of minimizing the spread of the disease. In the United States now there are 880 cases of measles spread across 24 states. With Maine’s low vaccination rate, one of those cases could cause a serious outbreak here, just as it has in other low-vaccination states.

A robust public health system not only can step in when an outbreak seems poised to break out, but can also take action to prevent the illness in the first place. It can follow statewide patterns of illness and health outcomes, and formulate a response. It can promote vaccinations, regular checkups, physical activity, healthy diets and smoking cessation.

A lot of those priorities got short shrift over the past several years as budget austerity and a lack of belief in government work took precedence over public health. The Legislature is now working to restore a lot of those capabilities to their full strength.

The diagnoses in Madison shows why that’s a wise move.


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